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No Normal Victim

By Anneliese Waters | 12/15/16 8:08pm | Updated 12/15/16 8:08pm

Editor's Note: The subject in this photo is not the subject being written about in this article.

Steven Baboun / American Word Magazine

Trigger warning: sexual assault.

The victim was 5 feet 7 inches tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. They attended a party on Friday night and drank too much alcohol. They were sexually assaulted. They felt they had nowhere to turn and internalized their negative thoughts and feelings, resulting in depression and anxiety.

How did you imagine this victim? As a woman, a man or neither?

Mainstream media tells us one narrative of sexual assault. We have been fed the story of what the perfect victim looks like, what the warning signs are and how to report and respond to this violence. But what do you do when you experience sexual violence outside of the cleanly constructed narrative? How can you respond and understand your own experience when culture tells you that this experience and your body do not fall under the “right” categories to identify within this arena? Sexual violence occurs outside of the male-female narrative, and many non-heteronormative experiences become invalidated because of the narrative society has laid out for us.

To start understanding and validating different experiences and narratives of sexual assault, we need to redefine the narrow construction of sexual violence. Lee Clyne, an executive board member of both AU Queers and Allies and Students Against Sexual Violence, explained how the effects of heteronormativity shape reports of sexual violence. “In terms of sexual assault, heteronormativity really complicates reporting and understanding the definition of sexual assault,” Clyne said. “People may be less willing to report because of heteronormative narratives about relationships where males are always depicted as the aggressors and females are always depicted as the victims. So when it’s a different kind of scenario or relationship, it might be more embarrassing or a lot more stigma attached.”

Society’s heteronormative narrative forces victims to reevaluate their own experiences, especially when trying to report or express them. The stigmas surrounding these experiences evoke fear and embarrassment in survivors. Human Rights Campaign reported that 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual women and 26 percent of gay men. Further, 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29 percent of heterosexual men. Even with these high statistics, we are still repeatedly told the singular narrative about male-female sexual violence. The point is not to invalidate the experience of male-female sexual violence, but to allow other definitions of sexual violence to be publicly discussed and destigmatized.

“A lot of people define rape in a single way: penis and vagina,” said Clyne. “So when you’re not someone who fits to that mold,you may not even know you yourself were raped because society has the story of the perfect victim and hegemonic view of exactly what would be happening there. There is internalized victim blaming as well as external factors of what society is telling you how you should feel.”

Instead of blindly accepting these narratives, we should question why we immediately believe them. When imagining what a victim or sexually violent situation looks like, we have to challenge ourselves to ask what assumptions we are making and why. One way to begin challenging these narratives is by attending related events on campus. Clyne explained how many cis-gender and heterosexual students do not attend events, and said, “I worry about not reaching people who are coming to events, people who feel uncomfortable coming to an event supporting survivors of sexual violence or supporting people of LGBTQ identity. I really wish anyone on campus would feel comfortable coming to learn about these issues.” Even though we may not identify, fully understand or be directly affected by an issue, creating a community of support is a narrative that people of all identities can tell.